The Sunday Times
She’s enjoyed soap stardom, basked in the glow of Hollywood’s award season and is about to take on an iconic Australian story. But life in the spotlight for Samara Weaving has not always been a picnic.
Aimless students of Australia, take heart. While stories abound of high-achieving adults recalling how they knew what they wanted to do from their very first day of kindergarten, not all successful adults had such an early sense of direction. And, despite starring in one of the most acclaimed and Oscar-winning films of the year, a role in a breakout television series, and a part in the upcoming reboot of an iconic Australian tale, Samara Weaving is one of them.
Despite the hat-trick that has placed her atop the heap of highly sought after, up-and-coming actors making their mark on screens big and small, the Australian admits she isn’t sure how it all came to be.
“When I was around 10 or 11, I realised that (acting) was my favourite thing to do. But I didn’t think of it as a career until last year,” Weaving tells STM. “I was one of those students who, if I wasn’t in love with the subject, it took me a really long time to get motivated to get good grades in it.”
Speaking from LA, her accent remains unmistakably Australian — even after months spent playing Americans. The US city is now home, and also where she was based during the recent awards season, which found her jetting from event to event promoting the Oscar-winning film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. It was a dizzying experience for the 26-year-old, who admits she didn’t realise she was a working actor until after high school. “I just kept acting, and getting work, and I was lucky enough that I could keep going,” she says. “I never had that conversation with myself: ‘Should I do this?’ It just fell into place — randomly.”
Still, her backstory indicates she may have been better placed for her career than she knew. Aside from the fact that acting runs in her blood (more on that in a moment), as a child she led the kind of nomadic lifestyle that can trigger the necessary curiosity that drives many in her chosen profession.
She was born in Adelaide, but in her youth Weaving’s family lived in Fiji, Indonesia and Singapore, before moving home to Australia’s capital, where she attended Canberra Girls Grammar. It was there, as a “shy” student, she delved into drama and the arts before moving to Sydney in 2009 to take up the role of Indi Walker in Home And Away. Weaving would stay put in fictional Summer Bay until 2013, becoming a familiar face to millions.
Weaving credits her upbringing for the lack of what-am-I-doing anxiety. She moved from Sydney to London and then, eventually, to Los Angeles as she pursued new opportunities. They finally started to arrive in 2015, when she won a few episodes on the horror-comedy series Ash Vs Evil Dead. Then last year she had a key part in the first season of the bruising television series SMILF, which stars Rosie O’Donnell and Connie Britton, and airs in Australia on Stan. While she says she
enjoys life in LA, there are the usual downsides — namely, the distance from friends and family. “It’s hard,” she admits. “But I try and get back (to Australia) as much as possible.”
As for those family connections to the industry, her father Simon Weaving is a director and scriptwriter, and her uncle is veteran actor Hugo Weaving, who first made his name locally in the 1989 miniseries Bangkok Hilton and 1991’s Proof. Beyond Australia, he came to notice for the Lord Of The Rings trilogy, The Matrix and, of course, The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert. Yet just last month, Weaving told Women’s Health magazine that she didn’t realise her uncle was a household name when she was growing up.
But as Hugo recently told STM, he’s not holding a grudge that his fame was seemingly lost on his niece. “When you’re a kid, you’re locked in your own world,” he says. “It’s a wonderful state when you’re more innocent, more immediate, more instinctive and less aware of other people. If Sam grew up seeing me as daggy Uncle Hugo, then that’s good, isn’t it?”
Yet there was no such nonchalance when she met Frances McDormand, this year’s Best Actress Oscar winner. What eventuated was a masterclass in how to handle fame — and the presence of younger actors eager to take a few cues. “(McDormand) gave me a big hug and said, ‘Oh, welcome’,” Weaving recalls of the first time she met her Three Billboards co-star. “She was so friendly and she knew everyone’s name on set. She took everyone under her wing. It was just such fun. She really made you feel comfortable.” She was, Weaving says, “like a really cool mum”.
The ride for Three Billboards — in which Weaving has a small but scene-stealing role — took her to every major ceremony along the months-long awards circuit, including the Oscars, the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild Awards, where she and her co-stars earned statuettes for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture. Standing onstage with the rest of the cast at the SAGs was a real “pinch me” moment. “I’m just so grateful I was there,” she says. “I think I’m still in shock and denial about it really.”
So, what about those afterparties teeming with A-listers — the ones that look like the most exclusive and exciting gatherings imaginable? Weaving likens them to an awkward work Christmas party where drunk colleagues wreak havoc on the dance floor and spill too many truths. “I have one drink and then I go home because I’m a bit overwhelmed,” she says. “I don’t want to say something stupid to someone that I admire.”
Weaving was also inducted during a season that, while celebratory, was also tempered with a sombre mood and reflection given the sexual harassment scandals that blew wide open in Hollywood late last year. From the all-black dress code and Oprah Winfrey’s rousing acceptance speech at the Golden Globes, to McDormand’s own thought-provoking mention of an equity-ensuring “inclusion rider” at the Oscars, Weaving had a front-row seat to an industry in the midst of a revolution. And it forced the young actor to reflect — perhaps more than she may have expected when she first landed in town. “There’s this darker underbelly of all these horrific stories coming out about the abuse of power towards women. But I think the silver lining is how we’ve all come together. We’re trying to make a change,” she says. “And we really need to make those changes. (Seeing) just how loyal women are, how fierce they are, how they’re not backing down, and really trying to figure out what the solution to this problem is . . . We should tell our stories and make sure we prevent it from happening again.”
As her star rose, Weaving experienced another unwelcome rite of passage — by being pitted against another young blonde woman and former Australian soap star who has experienced great success in Hollywood.
As the accolades for Three Billboards started to flow in, so too did the inevitable comparisons to another homegrown darling of the Academy Awards, Best Actress nominee Margot Robbie. “Move over, Margot! Robbie risks being outshone by another blonde Australian as Samara Weaving’s Three Billboards beats I, Tonya at the SAG Awards,” read one headline.
Rest assured, Weaving tells STM, no such rivalry exists. Instead, she insists, the whole thing is “very mundane”. Weaving says: “(She’s) really lovely. She’s a great actress. I’m flattered that people mistake me for her. That’s a great compliment. I hope that people realise pitting two women against each other is just silly.”
Rather than buying into the drama, Weaving is letting her work do the talking: her latest project, a reimagining of Joan Lindsay’s 1967 novel Picnic At Hanging Rock, follows three young women who
IT’S A GOOD REMINDER OF WHAT WOMEN WHO CAME AFTER THEM FOUGHT FOR, AND HOW LUCKY WE ARE TO HAVE EVERYTHING WE DO NOW. BUT WE SHOULD KEEP FIGHTING FOR EQUALITY. WEAVING ON PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK
mysteriously disappear on a school outing on Valentine’s Day, 1900. Peter Weir’s eerie 1975 film of the same name has long been considered one of the best Australian movies of all time. This time around it’s a bold, candy-coloured and fiercely feminist rethink for a modern audience. In the new six-part series, to air on Foxtel next month, director Larysa Kondracki pivots away from the iconic film and uses the lengthier run time to delve deeper into the novel. The series boasts a smattering of dark comedy, elaborate costuming and production design —not to mention a litany of strong, complex women as its lead characters.
Weaving says that last bit is exactly what drew her to the project in the first place. “A period piece like this brings awareness to the audience of what these women and men had to go through. Especially for the women — just how oppressed they were, yet it was the norm,” she says. “These were teenage girls; they wanted to wear pretty dresses and break free of all restraints society put on them. They were stuck there, and all they had was each other. It’s wonderful that the friendships between the women were so strong. I think that’s a good reminder of what women who came after them fought for, and how lucky we are to have everything we do now. But we should keep fighting for equality.”
Series director Kondracki considers Weaving a “knockout talent” who made the character of Irma her own. “There is such a fierce drive to be creative and challenge herself,” Kondracki says. “She’s not there for the wrong reasons and she’s hungry. To me, that’s the best thing you can hope for in an actor — someone who wants to be there and comes to play. There was nothing that she wouldn’t explore, and this was a challenging role. I’m excited to see what kind of choices she makes next, and for a long time. She’s the real deal.” Picnic At Hanging Rock premieres 6.30pm Sunday, May 6, on Foxtel’s Showcase channel.